Pushing through a tough tournament

Every now and then an angler has to overcome some adverse conditions. It might be rain, high winds, cold temperatures or extreme heat. But we have to approach adversity just like the postal service slogan: come rain, sleet, snow or shine, the mail must go through.

My first tournament of this year fit this scenario not because of what Mother Nature threw at all of us, but because of illness. To say it was a tough tournament would be an understatement. Nothing is worse than going to a tournament and being physically ill. Today, I’ll give an angler’s perspective on what it’s like to push through a tournament. 

Let me set up this challenge, and remind you that I am fighting Melanoma. On Jan. 3, I had biopsy surgery on my upper left ear — again! The following day, I had my fifth immunotherapy treatment with a drug called Opdivo. This is a drug designed to attack any cancer cells that might be present in the body. My body has not handled it very well. I’ve had to endure major muscle contractions of the lower back during the infusion of this drug. During this infusion after the pain hits, they inject me with two drugs; a pain killer called Demerol and a muscle relaxer called Ativan. This is the only way I can get through these treatments.

So, over a two-day period of surgery and IV infusion with pain killers, muscle relaxers and antbiotics, my body was going through hell. One week later, I headed for Sam Rayburn to get ready for the first ABA Open Series event.

My first practice day on Thursday, I felt sick all day and had major abdominal pain off and on. That evening my good friend and travel partner/competitor Adrian James and I went to dinner. Anyone that knows me, will tell you that when it comes to eating, I don’t pass up many meals. Feeling nauseated with strong abdominal pain coming and going, I started to eat my dinner and could only handle about five bites. I was concerned at this point that I was not going to be able to push through this event. So, I packed up and headed back home to Louisiana.

On Friday, I decided to take it easy and see if the pain and nausea would subside before I made any decision to withdraw from the tournament, which I’ve never done over my entire tournament career dating back to 1990. At 3 that afternoon I called the ABA Tournament Director, Chris Wayand (who does an outstanding job), and told him my situation. He told to me I had to let him know by 5:30 whether I was coming or not since the pairings for this event would be released at 6.

After getting through the day with minimal pain and starting to feel like I could maybe push through a one-day event, I called Chris confirming that I would be there. I left the house Saturday morning (tournament day) at 4 a.m. and made the two-hour drive to Sam Rayburn. I launched my boat with a queasy stomach and some anxiousness as to whether I made the right decision. I got lucky and did not have a partner as there were more pros/boaters than co-anglers. Sometimes in these events, anglers don’t always have a partner.

Finally, it was time to go fishing. As I headed across the lake for a short run to my first spot, I knew immediately that my stomach was going to be an issue. Nothing like a rough boat ride on an upset stomach along with abdominal pain to make you question, “why am I here?” But I powered through, trying to focus on catching fish. I caught one fairly quickly. It’s always amazing to me how much better catching fish will make you feel.

But one hour in, I had to take a break and sit down for about 40 minutes to let the pain subside. This happened four times during the day until 2 o’clock, when I decided I was done. I went in and weighed my fish and finished 24th overall and got some good points. I was kind of proud of that finish due to everything I had to overcome.

One thing about fishing a circuit or trail, if your goal is to make the championship at the end of the year, you can’t afford to miss a tournament. Missing an event puts you too far back in the pack and there’s no way to make up a missed tournament in terms of points. So, I got my points and survived a tough event and I’m still in position to make it to the Ray Scott National Championship in 2024.

Just so you know, I didn’t write this article for you to feel sorry for me but help you realize that sometimes an angler has to push through an event whether he’s facing Mother Nature herself or going through some personal aches and pains.

Until next time, good luck, good fishing and don’t forget to wear sunscreen. Melanoma is real and can be deadly if not treated early. Also make regular visits to a dermatologist; it just might save your life.

Contact Steve at sgraf26@yahoo.com